Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Ichikawa Kodanji as Saimyoji Tokiyori and Ichikawa Ebizo as Sano Genzaemon Tsuneyo, 1858. Oban.
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This print, from a series of possibly imaginary kabuki scenes, is typical of Kunisada’s late, confident style. The colouration and the characterisation here are bold and vigorous and it is a strikingly powerful composition. It was not uncommon (given censorship at the time), for artists to imagine popular actors of the day in roles that they never actually performed or in plays that were never written and this series may be a case in point, (although dramas do exist of the subject, notably Mitsu Uroko Katoku Biraki ).
The story illustrated is a little bit like the western legend of Wenceslas. A King, Tokiyori travels the winter landscape in disguise and calls at the house of a poor samurai who has lost everything except his three treasured bonsai trees. Nevertheless and not knowing the king's identity, he chops up the trees to make a fire for his guest and promises his loyalty to the king in time of crisis. Later when the king calls for soldiers the old samurai turns up and the king rewards him with three provinces - one for each of his trees. Kunisada shows Tokiyori in the grey robes of a Buddhist priest and Ebizo as the startled Tsuneyo in the foreground.
The print is in fine condition, trimmed to the image. Colour and impression are also fine.